Tracy Frank, Published August 06 2013
Her Voice: North Dakota native launches children’s book
HANKINSON, N.D. – North Dakota native and award-winning Arizona journalist and author Jana Bommersbach never really considered writing children’s books – until her mother told her to do it.
Bommersbach is now launching her children’s picture book, “A Squirrel’s Story – A True Tale,” Saturday in Hankinson, where her mother lives and where the story originated.
Bommersbach’s mother, Willie Bommersbach, who is featured in the book with her late husband, Rudy, will be part of the launch as well.
The book was inspired by a squirrel and her babies that lived in a wooden duck house in Bommersbach’s parents’ backyard in the spring of 2007. When it came time to leave the nest, one of the squirrels wouldn’t go, so the mother squirrel had to dangle him over the side and drop him, Bommersbach said. The squirrel was stunned for a bit but then scampered off.
“My mother told me the story and said ‘This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life. You need to write a book about that,’ ” Bommersbach said.
“A Squirrel’s Story” is about a mama squirrel named Shirlee who moves her babies, Sammy and Sally, into a wooden duck house to keep them out of reach of a menacing black cat.
In addition to putting her parents in the book, Bommersbach also personalized other details in the story. Shirlee Squirrel is named after her late friend, Shirlee Lehnis, a former reading teacher.
Another character, Steve, a reporter for the Squirrel Information Network, is named for one of Bommersbach’s high school classmates, Steve Jacobson.
“A Squirrel’s Story,” which is illustrated by Jeff Yesh, has earned honorable mentions at the Beach Book Festival and the New York Book Festival.
Bommersbach, who also teaches creative writing at Phoenix College, has received numerous accolades through her work as an investigative journalist.
She has written two non-fiction books, “The Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd” and “Bones in the Desert: The True Story of a Mother’s Murder and a Daughter’s Search.” And she was a major contributor to the anthology “True Tales and Amazing Legends of the Old West from True West Magazine.”
“A Squirrel’s Story” is her first work of fiction and her only book for children.
“It was scary,” she said. “I had one punch line: A mother squirrel dangles her baby out of the nest. How do you make a whole book out of one sentence?”
But she thought about the book during a boring two-hour drive. Then she put her investigative skills to work and researched squirrels, and her children’s book started coming together.
“It was a journalistic practice, but I had to think way outside the box that we normally think in,” she said.
Bommersbach has read the book to groups of children and said they seem to be very engaged. She has a performance-sized squirrel puppet she takes with her to book readings and she has the children take turns playing puppeteer.
“The best part is to sit there and watch these children’s imaginations take over,” she said.
Bommersbach plans to work on a children’s book series next.
“You write because there’s something you need to say,” she said. “If you can get an audience to listen to that, that’s the gravy.”
Bommersbach grew up in Hankinson until she was in third grade, when her family moved to Gwinner. She lived there through high school.
She received her undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.
An open house celebrating her book’s release will be held from
1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Hankinson Senior Center.
The book is published by Little Five Star, a division of Arizona-based Five Star Publications. It sells for $11.95 and is available at bookstores nationwide.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526